The Maharashtra Assembly on Wednesday unanimously approved the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill, which seeks to crack down on extra-judicial bodies like caste and community panchayats, and prescribes a maximum punishment of three years in jail.
The "Bill to provide for prohibition of social boycott of a person or group of persons including their family members and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto" was passed on the last day of the Budget session today. It is yet to be passed by the Legislative Council.
"There was a demand that the existing laws were inadequate to deal with social boycott cases and a new legislation was needed," Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said during the debate on the bill.
"In this bill, we have treated indulging in social boycott a crime," the Chief Minister said, adding that he was happy that it got the support of all the members.
The cabinet had on March 1 approved the draft bill.
The legislation provides for the prohibition of social boycott of a person or group of persons including their family members by an individual or a group like caste ('jaat') panchayat.
Maharashtra is the first state in the country to introduce a bill against social boycott.
As per the bill, the offence of imposing social boycott will attract maximum punishment of 3 years in prison or a fine up to Rs 1 lakh or both. The abetment of the offence also attracts the same punishment and fine.
'Social Boycott Prohibition Officers' will be appointed to detect the commission of offences under the Act. The burden of proving that no offence under this Act has been committed shall lie on the accused. Maharashtra, in recent times, has witnessed an increasing number of incidents of social boycott and violence on the orders of caste panchayats.
Anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar too had taken up the issue before his murder in Pune in 2013. For years, a number of activists and academics have been demanding an Act against the practices of caste panchayats.